Illustration for article titled With Covid-19 Closing Theaters, This Distributor Is Taking the Movie-Going Experience Online
Photo: Josh Edelson (Getty)

Movie theaters worldwide have been shuttering in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak since there—understandably—aren’t a lot of butts in seats between limitations on public gatherings, mandatory quarantines, and widespread adoption of social distancing practices. Several major studios such as Disney and Universal have partially solved their half of the problem by bringing their films to streaming services or postponing theatrical releases, but analysts predict that diminished box office returns could total a $5 billion loss for the industry.

With that in mind, arthouse and indie film distributor Kino Lorber announced a new initiative this week that simultaneously gets their movies in front of viewers and helps theaters keep the lights on in the meantime—a win-win. Called the Kino Marquee program, it employs the company’s recently launched on-demand video platform, Kino Now, to create virtual screening rooms in collaboration with participating theaters.

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“Of course we wanted to find a way to keep our current film release in front of audiences, but to do so in a way that would also benefit our exhibition partners,” said Wendy Lidell, Kino Lorber’s senior vice president of theatrical distribution, in a press statement. “We want to help ensure that these theaters will be able to reopen their doors after this crisis passes.”

Here’s how it works: After you buy your virtual “ticket” for a showing from the theater’s dedicated Kino Marquee page, you receive a link to an online screening “room” on Kino Now that’s only navigable for ticketholders. The theaters themselves handle all promotional efforts to get the word out about these showings, and online performance determines the film’s run with revenue from ticket sales split with the distributor. It’s essentially simulated to feel like going to the movies without physically going to the movies (and possibly spreading or catching a deadly virus).

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While Kino Lorber originally said it intended to scale this program up “in response to market demand” within the next few weeks, an outpour of positive responses seems to be speeding up that timeline significantly. Thirteen theaters had signed on to the project when it launched Thursday, all committed to virtually screening the company’s newest release, Bacurau. Since then, that number’s climbed to 50 participating theaters across more than two dozen states (you can find the full list here).

As of now, Kino Lorber said it doesn’t have an end date for the program; so long as theaters remain closed due to the pandemic, the company plans to continue screening its currently scheduled releases and repertory titles through this online program.

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It’s a model I could stand to see more distributors adopt, particularly for folks who may not want to (or be able to) subscribe to a ton of new streaming services just to catch a few new releases while self-quarantining.

Gizmodo weekend editor. Freelance games reporter. Full-time disaster bi.

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